Like buying a home, finding the perfect jacket for backpacking first and foremost depends on location.  If you are planning a backpacking trip in Colorado, the clothing you wear and have in your backpack can have a huge effect on your trip. The best jacket for backpacking will depend on the time of year and your planned route. Even in the height of summer, thanks to Colorado’s great ranges in elevation, you need a jacket that can offer protection from cold temperatures.

The best backpacking jacket should be comfortable, keep you dry during unexpected downpours, and cuddle you on cold evenings – and be light and packable enough to stuff easily in your backpack. This is a lot to ask from just one jacket, so many savvy Colorado Springs backpackers will carry a variety of jackets. Let’s take a look at your choice of jackets for backpacking.

Hardshell Backpacking Jackets

To be clear, wearing a hardshell jacket is not like walking around in a tortoiseshell.  Instead, a hardshell jacket is waterproof and generally wind-proof, supplying a “hard” exterior that will keep you dry when hiking through three straight days of rain, sleet, and snow.

However, you also need to combat wetness inside the jacket from your body’s perspiration during uphill slogs, and a layer underneath to keep you warm during temperature drops.

What To Look For

The best hardshell backpacking jacket will have pit-zips for ventilation, deep hand pockets, an adjustable hood and cuffs, and roomy enough to allow for layering underneath. You will also want a jacket with one layer or more of breathable technology (e.g., Gore-Tex) and a durable, waterproof finish.

Softshell Jackets For Backpacking

Softshell jackets are more flexible than their hardshell cousins. A good softshell for backpacking in Colorado will have move-with-you stretch for the hardest ascents and fend off light precipitation while making sure sweat doesn’t steam you up.

What To Look For

When considering softshell jackets for backpacking, look for one with moisture-wicking properties and a water-resistant and breathable fabric.

Have extra backpacking gear you aren’t using?  Read this.

Down Jackets

A lightweight, warm, compressible, puffy-down jacket (ideally with a hood) serves as backcountry insurance. Even the most experienced Colorado backcountry enthusiasts will underestimate how cold the summer Colorado mountains can be when the sun goes down. A down jacket can serve as insulation on breaks, around camp, or to supplement your sleep system when the Rocky Mountain temperatures dip into the range of exceptionally chilly.

What To Look For

Down jackets for backpacking should be in the light or ultra-light range, with a fill-power of 650 or more, and boasting a 30% or more fill rate.

Fleece Jackets

Fleece will keep you warm even when it gets wet (unlike down). Experienced backpackers all know that you must keep hiking even in the pouring rain.  For this reason, a fleece jacket is a good choice as part of your backpacking clothing layering system.

What To Look For

The options available in fleece jackets are too numerous to cover in detail here. Look for a versatile mid-weight fleece with an active fit, and you should be set for any backpacking adventure you have in mind.

Rain Jackets

A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is a must on all Colorado backpacking trips. You will overheat in mild temperatures while backpacking in a rain jacket, and conversely, in cold and windy conditions, a rain jacket can help retain body heat.

What To Look For

A rain jacket for backpacking should be large enough to go over your other layers. You will also want a jacket made from a breathable material, combined with good ventilation via pit-zips.

The Right Jacket For Backpacking

How Do I Know Which Jacket For Backpacking I Need?

When choosing the right jacket for backpacking, a lot will depend on the time of year and what elevations you will be hiking at. So, let’s take a look at backpacking jackets by the season.


For summer backpacking trips in Colorado, a lightweight rain jacket can serve to keep you dry during rain showers and also retain body heat if you encounter an unexpected cold snap. A lightweight puffy jacket is ideal for keeping you toasty when the sun goes down.

Spring and Fall

Sometimes known as ”shoulder seasons,” spring and fall in Colorado tend to be a bit colder and rainier. So, in addition to your summer jackets, add a fleece or softshell jacket for daytime warmth if necessary.


Backpacking in winter presents more of a challenge to stay warm and dry. To backpack in the cold when the weather is rainy or snowy, wear a base layer of long underwear with a middle layer of fleece or down all under a waterproof hardshell jacket.

Where To Buy Your Jacket For Backpacking

New backpacking jackets, especially the higher-quality brand names, can be pricey. However, you can find used brand name jackets in good condition at outdoor gear consignment stores without straining your budget. If you live in or near Colorado Springs, MER usually has a great choice of used outdoor clothing gear and backpacking/camping equipment. Let us help you choose your ideal jacket for your backpacking adventure.

Read More:

What Is Dispersed Camping in Colorado?

Outdoor Activities For Self-Care In The Pikes Peak Region

Environmental Benefits Of Buying Used Outdoor Gear